California Buckeye


Dewy Buckeye

Daily Photo

Smooth, golden, and hard this tangerine sized seed results from the sweet smelling buckeye flower and seems like a delightful cross between an apple and a nut. But, beware, this plant is so poisonous that beekeepers are advised to not place the hives near the flower because it can kill the industrious creatures.  And, in fact, the fruit is so lethal that only one animal eats it–the ground squirrel.

However, the native people on the North Coast utilized nearly the whole plant.  Even though these seeds are poisonous raw, the Indians used to pound the seeds into flour and leech the toxins out through an incredibly laborious process.  The Pomo used the meal from this even when other food was plentiful and made a poltice from the bark for snakebites.  Most tribes would mash the seeds, pour the result into fishing holes in order to harvest the resulting stupified or dead fish.


Apparently the plant has some sort of mindmelding properties.  I was planning on posting about the buckeye today when I say Elaine of Willits Daily Photos had already put a nice piece out with a nearly identical photo!



  • I have seen deer nibble on buckeye balls and squirrels do eat them. But, they are very toxic, don’t try eating them. The Indians knew a lot more about their preparation for food than we do, so stay away from eating them.

    I know of a group of young people that were camping and drinking a lot of alcohol. One Guy was carving on a buckeye ball and decided to eat a slice of it. He became very disoriented and suffered some paralyses, and was (Luckily) throwing up. The rest of the kids just thought that he was drunk. Fortunately he lived through it. People has been made sick from eating honey gathered by bees from the Buckeye.

    My Mother tells a story about some kids that came up to the ranch in Laytonville, from San Francisco. My mother, a child at the time went with the city kids for a walk on the hill. They found a discarded deer horn. The city kids were asking about it, and the country kids were explaining that the buck deer lose their horns in the winter. The city kids were a little skeptical, but they accepted the story. Then they found a buckeye ball and asked what it was. The country kids told them that it was a buckeye ball. After that that, the city kids wouldn’t believe anything that the country kids said.

  • You tell the best stories!

    Did you used to have buckeye fights? I’ll bet you did. All of us raised around here did. They are so painful when they hit.

  • I love how those “balls” look hanging from the otherwise bare branches this time of year! They remind me of sparsely decorated Christmas trees. The only reason I’d harvest those beautiful, shiny balls are to plant more buckeyes. The fragrance is like lilacs.

    Isn’t it amazing that the native people actually processed them for food? You have to admire people who systematically figured out a way to squeeze some kind of nutrition out of such a toxic fruit. Incidentally, young, straight shoots of buckeye branches make excellent drills for fire-starting kits (take note, you SoHum Survivalists…).

    Great seasonal shot, Kym.

  • I’ve tried to get several growing in my yard but I lose them all after 2 years. Maybe I overwater?

  • Mindmelding properties? Sounds rather Spock-like to me.

  • I’ve eaten lots of acorn soup but never buckeye. The wood was the primary one used to make fire. There is an Indian story that lightning created fire and that fire lives in the buckeye because it was the tree lightning struck. I can’t say I’ve ever made fire with a fire drill but I’d like to take Tamara Wilder’s class whenever she shows up.
    Kym, I always seem to have young buckeyes here if you want to try another one.
    Ernie,that is a great story.

  • Acorn soup..yuck, I mean yum. I can start the buckeye no problem. I just can’t get them to take off.

  • If you notice buckeye’s grow in very specific soil, below marsha’s and by mikeal’s gravel pit. I don’t think that they like our medows or clay soils.
    They make great potted plants, and will last for seveal years. Actually buckeys trees were introduced by law enforcement to entice growere to use their camo to grow under and then when camp starts all the leaves fall off and ohla. lol

  • My soil is full of clay so that may be my problem. And you are right, none grow within a quarter mile of my house. Maybe I’d better stick with pots. I want them to bloom though. I love their flowers and their fragrance.

  • It’s so colorful, i wish the ohio Buckeye was as colorful. It seems that everything that is bright and seemingly edible is poisoness.

  • Good observation on buckeye occurence, Tom, and even better mythology about their origin! I prefer to thank lightning, though I agree they seem to like well-aerated soil. All the buckeyes I’ve planted are still in pots; they make decent bonsai projects.

    Kym, I hope I haven’t biased you about acorns from my impatient experiments with them. It’s taken years for me to realize just how much thorough leaching the meal requires before its subtle, maple-nut-like sweetness comes through. I’m afraid I’ve lost a few culinary guinea pigs (though hopefully not friends) in the process. (Ben, what’s your recipe?)

  • My Indian friends pointed out that different people like their acorn meal differently. Some like it like pablum, very bland, and others like me, like some bite left in it so it tastes of something. Try it different ways.

  • I’m willing to try acorns again but I can’t say I’m a huge fan;> I’d even like to try buckeye just for fun.

  • Amazing the Native Americans could imagine how to take the poison out of a seed. I love this stuff.
    How did they figure that out? LOL.

  • You have to wonder how many people got sick figuring out how to make food out of the seed!

  • Kato… Crack and shell the acorns discarding maggoty ones. Remove the “skin” covering the meat Very important! Grind the meats in a blender and put the meal on a cloth in a collander. Run water over the meal until the bitterness is gone. Takes time. Tanoak acorns are best. Black oak is good. You can can the soup and save it for ceremonial occasions. It’s best with smoked salmon. A good combination of protein and fat. My wife, Tui, says she learned to leach them by filling a quart jar a third full of meal then the rest with water. Dump and refill the water every morning for seven days. She learned that in Round Valley.
    Another great Indian food is roasted pepperwood nuts. They are really good and have a little pick me up effect. I’m not trying Buckeye any time soon.

  • Ben, thank you! Tell Tui that I appreciate the leeching tips. I will try this some day.

  • Tui also says that the Indians she knew aged their acorns for a year before they opened them. She thinks maybe it’s easier to get the skins off aged acorns,

  • Thanks for your tips, Ben (and Tui). I know I rush the process every year, now I’ll think about drying for longer. In the past, I was not meticulous about tiny bits of the skin, and I would press newbies to try a bite before the bitterness was totally leached out. And yes: leach, leach, leach! This is a food that teaches (and rewards) patience. It’s great to spend a day with friends making acorn.

    Last year, I used the flour in a cookie recipe for the unsuspecting and enjoyed a “mush” all by my lonesome on the solstice. In the past, we’ve also mixed it with wild mushrooms for a turkey stuffing and even had candied acorn halves (boiled in many changes of sugar water). I think it’s important to keep harvesting and appreciating this abundant local food crop that previous generations worked so hard to cultivate.

    And I LOVE roasted bay nuts; I keep them “squirreled” away in my glovebox in the car, in my bike bag, purse, coat pockets, etc. for emergencies (or cravings). Tamara Wilder introduced me to them with a recipe tailored to american palates: she grinds them up in a coffee mill and mixes them with equal parts of powdered sugar… !

  • I can testify that the bay nuts are delicious!

  • Growing up in the Sonoma Valley we smoked the dried leaves. Rolled them up in old brown paper bag paper to make cigar-like blunts. I shudder now to think I ever did it.

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